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Travel insurance vs international health insurance

PUBLISHED: 27 August 2018 | LAST UPDATED: 9 October 2023

It’s not uncommon for travel insurance to be mentioned in the same breath as International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI). But as any experienced expat will tell you, there’s a big difference between going on holiday and living abroad for any length of time. 

So if you want to avoid getting caught short with the wrong type of cover, here’s a heads up on how the two products serve very different purposes.

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So what’s the difference? 

In a nutshell, travel insurance is a way of protecting you and your possessions against accidents and mishaps while spending a short time overseas. And although it will often include some kind of health benefits, they tend to be limited to accidents and emergencies– rather than everyday doctor’s visits or on-going care.

With travel insurance, most healthcare benefits are also capped – either financially or in terms of time – and give you very little choice of when and where you can be treated.

International Health Insurance is very different. It’s usually 100% about your health, so it doesn’t reimburse you for delayed flights, lost luggage or damage to your sunglasses. But it does cover you for much more than basic emergency healthcare – including visits to the doctor, routine checkups and even treatment for chronic conditions or serious illness like cancer. Plus you can access thousands of hospitals and clinics worldwide.

So if you’re heading abroad for longer than just a quick holiday, you’ll find that regular travel insurance won’t give you the level of cover you’re likely to need. 

International health insurance

Travel insurance

  • Solely focused on health.                                                                                                                                                    
  • Health is an add-on to cancellation and lost luggage insurance, and only covers emergencies.
  • Truly global customer service, including people who understand the support you need to arrange treatment away from home.
  • Customer service doesn’t specialise in health, and may not have local expertise.                                                                                                       
  • Limited health support services, as this isn’t the main focus of cover.
  • Covers you regardless of why you’re travelling.                        
  • May exclude business trips if it’s personal cover – or holidays if it’s business cover. 
  • Covers much more than basic emergency treatment – including everyday care and routine check-ups.
  • Designed to cover emergencies only. You’ll be expected to have routine care at home.                         
  • Set up to cover you for the length of your stay, even if you’re relocating to a new country.                                                                                                  
  • Often has an upper ‘trip’ limit. For example, many policies only cover you for 25 days. Even extended policies may only cover for a limited time.
  • Covers you in your chosen area, wherever you’re living. So you can access healthcare even when traveling or back in your home country.
  • May no longer cover you if you’ve moved away from the country where you bought the policy. Or if you travel outside of the country you’re visiting.
  • You can sometimes get cover for pre-existing medical conditions or review any exclusions after a set amount of time.                                                                                                                                    
  • Pre-existing conditions will be excluded. This means that if you’ve had an illness in the past and whilst you’re away you fall ill with something related to that illness, you won’t be covered. 
Which type of insurance should you go for?

If you’re just planning a week in the sun, then travel insurance might give you the cover you’re looking for. But if you’re planning to spend longer abroad – to work, live or just for a new adventure, then International Health Insurance will give you peace of mind that you’ll be covered should you need to access healthcare. 

Whether it’s locating a local doctor, advice on a particular treatment or wellbeing tips on how to stay healthy overseas, with International medical cover you’ll have multi-lingual helplines, access to instant medical information and a team of experts on hand day or night, to help with every last detail.

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.